Jonathan Dwight’s bookplate

I’ve been remiss in posting here due to offline busyness, but I wanted to draw attention to this blog post by Rick Wright from the ABA Blog:

It’s always enjoyable to find birding and bibliophilia colliding. Bookplates, though not as in fashion today as they once were, are an interesting and artistic aspect of book culture. One of the links in Wright’s post is to the journal Libraries and the Cultural Record, which has a bookplate archive. The bookplate archive also includes the bookplate of the Montclair Art Association, which I remember well. The Montclair Art Association became the Montclair Art Museum, and my first job after college was working as a library assistant in the museum library.

Bookplates are, in some ways, the equivalent of marginalia. Some book collectors like their books as pure and unmarked as the driven snow. Some book collectors like to see the provenance and history of their book written as addenda in its pages. Every book has a history. The pristine books are less forthcoming about their history than the ones that have been heavily annotated, but they also have their histories.


Happy birthday, Mark Catesby! (or not)

This morning, the blog of the Smithsonian Institution’s libraries posted a birthday greeting to Mark Catesby. Catesby was an English naturalist who wrote and illustrated The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: Containing the Figures of Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, Insects, and Plants. Quoting from Christopher Leahy’s The Birdwatcher’s Companion (1983 edition), Catesby’s book was, “…the first comprehensive, illustrated (engraved by Catesby himself and hand-colored), accurate (given the pre-Linnaean state of early-eighteenth-century biology) work on the natural history of North America.” Before there was Audubon, there was Catesby, though he didn’t confine his observations to birds; according to Leahy, his main field was botany.

Catesby was born on March 24, 1682/3 in Castle Hedingham, Essex, England; the uncertainty about his birthdate in part comes from the difference between the Old Style and New Style calendars, and in part from the difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars (the Smithsonian blog post has much more about this, which is no surprise to any genealogist who has researched people in this era). The post also shows Catesby plates of “the Great Booby” and the Blue Jay (albeit with a somewhat rumpled crest).…

For a bit more about Catesby’s biography, here’s a link from the Catesby Commemorative Trust.

Personal archiving: a few links

As more and more information becomes digital, archivists wrestle with the issues of how to archive these materials. Complicating factors include a dizzying variety of platforms and types of software, planned obsolescence, usage licenses and copyright, and the sheer quantity of born-digital information.

But archivists are not the only ones wrestling with these issues. Ordinary people are faced with the same problems as they try to figure out how to save their e-mails, documents, photos, and other digital materials. Where once you could stick some handwritten letters in a shoebox and some family snapshots in a photo album and expect that they would last for a little while, you can’t do that any longer. Of course, if you really want those letters and snapshots to last for more than a little while, you shouldn’t put them in shoeboxes and random photo albums to begin with; ordinary people need help with preserving non-digital items as well.

There have been several recent events focusing on personal archiving, and I expect that this is a topic that will be getting more attention. It might even make a good career niche for enterprising archives professionals: how about a freelance archivist (or group of archivists) that you can hire to help you make sense of your belongings and advise you on how to handle them in the future so that your personal archiving process is as efficient and reliable as possible? Perhaps you can put them on retainer so that every six months or so, they can archive whatever has accumulated since their last visit. It sounds like a worthwhile service to me (as a potential customer), as well as something that could be a fun and interesting job (as a recently-graduated MLIS with an interest in archives).

The Personal Digital Archiving 2011 Conference was held in February 2011 at the Internet Archive. INFOdocket has posted a link to videos of the presentations at the conference; that post also links to other PDA2011 content on INFOdocket. Also, The Conference Circuit blog has summaries of the talks at the conference (since it’s a blog, they’re in reverse order); this links to the ‘Personal Archiving, 2011’ category on the blog.

Going back a bit further in time, the Library of Congress held a Personal Archiving Day on May 10, 2010. Videos from that event are now available on the web as well. Once again, INFOdocket provides an overview post with links.

Archival materials, copyright, and teaching history

Micalee Sullivan has written an interesting post on the blog for the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative.

Sullivan, who is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Michigan State University, wanted to take digital photographs of letters held at Arizona State University’s Archives and Special Collections and post them on a website as materials for her class. As she says in her blog post:

“Allowing students to view high res photos of the actual documents gives them the opportunity to struggle with interpreting the faded, spotty, and outdated handwriting just as a historian would and can be much more interesting to view than just transcribed material on a word document.”

However, the copyright for those letters was not retained by ASU and they therefore cannot give permission to reproduce the letters on a public website, even if they have been reproduced for educational purposes.

Sullivan’s post does a good job of listing the various ins and outs of the copyright advice she received from various sources. The post also highlights the potential pitfalls of using archival materials as a teaching aid (not to mention the restrictions archivists face when they make decisions about access to and use of their holdings).

The thing that really resonated with me was Sullivan’s interest in using the original documents (or facsimiles thereof) in her teaching. Quoting again:

“As a historian, maybe it’s naïve of me to think that history can be exciting to most people. But when your only experience with the subject has been confined to textbooks and lectures, it would be difficult to find the thrill of it all. Digital technology provides teachers with the tools to make history more than lectures and textbooks. When students are given a variety of historical materials they can form their own opinions about certain time periods and events, rather than just taking notes on them. While distance may seperate [sic] students from the actual artifacts of history, digital archives can provide a close substitute. Hopefully the legalities won’t get in the way.”

Maybe I’m naive too, but I believe history can be exciting, possibly even to “most people.” Just look at the interest in genealogy, which essentially is a way of using research about your family’s ancestry as a way of learning about history. Sure, some genealogists never get beyond “name-collecting,” but others find their interest expanding to include the larger history of a location, or of a time period. The interest is there. The question is how (or if) historians, archivists, amateur history geeks, genealogists, and other interested parties can work together to support the cause.

H/T @ndiipp via @EinAtlanta and @archivesnext

My most-abused bird book

At the end of last year, BirdFellow put up a photo essay about abused field guides. The books pictured in that post have obviously led very punishing lives, and the photos would probably make any right-minded bibliophile cringe or start sobbing.

Recently, in another post, BirdFellow promoted a comment from the abused field guides post and gave it its own moment in the sun. Commenter Bob Tarte wrote about two old bird books that he found in used bookstores, and he included this felicitous line, “…whenever I look up the birds in this book, I feel the presence of its original owner.”

I’ll come back to that thought in a moment, but first I’d like to share some images of my most-abused bird book, which is not a field guide but a bird-finding guide.

I was a relatively new birder when I bought a copy of Bill Boyle’s A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey. I was a new enough birder that the idea of a bird-finding guide seemed extreme. After all, there were birds in my backyard. There were birds in the local parks. Finding birds didn’t seem to be a difficult proposition at all. However, my guiding principle when taking up an interest is to buy as many books about it as possible, so I bought that bird-finding guide, even though it seemed a little silly to do so.

So this is what that bird-finding guide looks like today:

Front cover. Not very visible are the checklists for various NJ birding locations that are stuffed into the book as a method of filing.

The binding began splitting, so I fixed it up with white tape. That worked for a while, but then it began splitting again, so I patched it with white tape again. Then the front board decided it wanted to leave the spine, but before I had to correct that, a new edition of the book came out and I retired this copy.

Then there’s the interior, which sports highlighting, underlining, notes of when and where I saw certain species, dog-eared pages…you get the drift. I even stuck a bookplate in it. This may not be an abused field guide, but it’s a very abused bird book that has more than earned its retirement.

With that, I’ll return to Bob Tarte’s comment about the presence of the original owner. Book dealers like old books with little or no wear and damage, since wear reduces a book’s value. The only exception would be if a book’s marginalia came from a famous person, or if the book was signed by the author. This kind of wear isn’t damage, but can enhance a book’s value.

Most birders aren’t famous, but a lot of them mark up some of their books as a record of their sightings. This happens most frequently with field guides. I’ve run across marked-up bird books in used bookstores plenty of times. If I end up buying those books, I’m likely to treasure them just a little bit more precisely because they carry the presence of the original owner and note-taker. That just goes to show that different people can look at the same book and arrive at a different estimate of its value.

Kalliopi Monoyios on the Gregory Paul paleoart controversy

This controversy has all the elements for a gripping thriller: Science. Art. Intellectual property arguments. Money (or rather, lack of it). And, above all, dinosaurs.…

In brief, Gregory S. Paul is one of the major figures in the paleoart community, enough so that his work is widely imitated. Paul, not surprisingly, is not happy about this state of affairs and has threatened legal action against imitators. He is defending his livelihood against those who would create knockoffs of his work and then underbid him to get illustration commissions. However, there are those who believe that Paul is claiming copyright protection for intellectual property that he cannot copyright (such as the pose of a dinosaur reconstruction).

Monoyios’s post (a Scientific American Guest Blog) starts from there and fills in the larger context of “art for science’s sake.” Her clear summary discusses matters like declining funding, copyright in the scientific world, staff artists vs. freelancers, and other trends that are relevant to this controversy. She also has a list of links to other blogs with commentary on the situation.

H/T @BoraZ

In the field and on assignment

One frequent theme in “learn how to bird” books is the necessity of taking field notes. The process of taking field notes about the birds that one observes makes the birder a better observer. It can also supply invaluable evidence when an unusual bird is seen and reported to others, such as a Bird Records Committee (BRC). Field notes can be text, pictures, or a combination of the two. As technology has changed recently, more and more birders are choosing to use digital cameras as their preferred documentation device. The processes of photographic documentation and written documentation, however, have different strengths and are not interchangeable.

Two recent posts from BirdFellow that talk about the advantages of traditional forms of documentation are A Lost Art? Writing Descriptions of Rare Birds and Lost Art? Revisited: Alternatives to Taking Notes (though it should be noted that one of these alternatives is field sketching, which I consider to be part of the note-taking process, not separate from it). The decline of traditional note-taking is a frequent topic of discussion among those who review documentation, such as editors for regional birding journals of record, or BRC members.

I’m used to following these discussions in the context of the birding community, so I was surprised and delighted to find this post from the Tooth and Claw blog:…

Blogger and journalist Hillary Rosner compares the scientist in the field with the journalist on assignment, a comparison that would never occur to me, but once I read Rosner’s post, it made perfect sense. Not only that, Rosner stresses the importance of note-taking to both the scientist and the journalist. She also talks about the differences between written documentation and photographic documentation. Although this post has nothing to do with birding, it has everything to do with birding documentation practices.

H/T @BoraZ